Australia's royalist PM brings back knights and dames

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia announced on Tuesday that knights and dames will be reintroduced to its honours list to recognise distinguished members of society.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch monarchist, said up to four knights or dames could be appointed each year, starting with the British queen's outgoing representative Governor-General Quentin Bryce and her successor Peter Cosgrove.

"I believe this is an important grace note in our national life," Abbott said.

"This is for pre-eminent achievement."

The titles will go to people who have accepted public office rather than sought it although Abbott would not rule out politicians being knighted.

All recommendations will be made by Abbott and approved by Queen Elizabeth II, who has amended the legal document that created the Governor-General role - the letters patent for the Order of Australia - to allow for the new honours.

The categories were introduced by then-prime minister Malcolm Fraser in 1976 but were abolished a decade late by Bob Hawke.

Only 12 Australian knights and two dames have ever been appointed.

Bryce had reignited the republic debate last year when she expressed support for replacing the monarch with an Australian head of state.

Ahead of elections last September, state broadcaster ABC asked more than 1.4 million people their views and found 38 per cent in favour of cutting ties to the British monarchy while 20 per cent were neutral.